Just 15 kilometres north of Nuremberg in Middle Franconian you’ll find the city of Erlangen. This city’s story really begins in the 1680s when the Edict of Nantes was evoked, expelling the Huguenots from France. Many were welcomed to Erlangen, and so a planned Baroque city was constructed to accommodate an exploding population.
So Erlangen isn’t a city of cute timber-framed houses, but rather of broad streets, exuberant palaces and formal gardens of the 1600s and 1700s. The Margraves of Brandenburg-Bayreuth led this development, and their residence is now the administration for the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, which operates a few attractions in the city. For more than 85 years, Erlangen has also hosted the medical technology arm of the multinational brand Siemens, which has a smart little museum here.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Erlangen:
One of the first Baroque gardens to be planted in Franconia, the Schlossgarten was laid out in that formal style at the start of the 1700s.
As you navigate the park you’ll stumble upon historic monuments.
One is the Huguenot fountain from 1706, a wonderful, almost rough-hewn monument, showing Huguenot noble families on the bottom tier, below ancient deities, all surmounted by the Margrave Christian Ernst.
Also seek out the unfinished equestrian statue of Christian Ernst, carved from an immense single block of sandstone in 1712. At the end of June every year the garden hosts the Schlossgartenfest, Europe’s largest garden party inviting 6,500 guests and organised by the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
On your jaunt through the Schlossgarten you’ll bump into the orangery, completed in 1706. The building kept its intended purpose for 40 or so years, wintering the gardens’ stock of bitter orange trees until Christian Ernst’s widow Elisabeth Sophie passed away in 1748. The facade of this pavilion horseshoe-shaped pavilion is loaded with sculpture by Elias Räntz, who fashioned the Huguenot fountain in the garden.
In the centre is a hall with a water feature fed by the nearby water tower.
The orangery has been used by the university for 200 years and on weekends can be rented as a venue for weddings and special events.
3. Erlangen Botanical Garden
Immediately north of the Schlossgarten is a sublime botanical garden managed by the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
The garden goes right back to 1626 and moved to its current location in 1828. On a long, rectangular plot are some 4,000 species from a range of climate zones and ecosystems, from coniferous woodland to Alpine and subtropical environments.
There are greenhouses for arid and semi-arid cactus and succulent plants, while one of the most enthralling gardens is for spices, including some exceptionally old and rare crops.
Kids may not be excited by the academic rigour but they will enjoy the ponds, which are alive with frogs, newts and fish.
No sooner had the Huguenots arrived in Erlangen than a place of worship was created for them.
The body of the church was raised in just seven years up to 1693, while the 52-metre tower came later, in the 1730s.
The church is on the square of the same name in the Neustadt.
And remembering that these were Calvinists, the architecture both inside and out is muted and subtle, but there are a few interesting historical features.
Take in the clock, which has blue, white and red on its face, the colours of the French tricolor, as well as the elegant pulpit from 1700 and the Baroque organ designed by the prominent organ-maker Johann Nikolaus Ritter up to 1764.
5. Siemens MedMuseum
The German multinational Siemens has been in Erlangen since 1932 when the company absorbed Reiniger, Gebbert & Schall, a manufacturer of precision medical apparatus.
In 2014 the brand opened a museum exhibiting a medical technology collection that goes back 160 years and a gigantic archive of photos, footage and publications.
The MedMuseum is in a factory from 1893 and among the important pieces of hardware are Siemens’ first ever X-ray, CT and MRI machines, combined with detailed insights about the technology behind them.
On panels you can read up on the innovators in the field of medical engineering since the 19th century, and the progress of technology in that time.
6. Markgräfliches Schloss
On the west side of the Schlossgarten is the palace that it was all designed for.
The Markgräfliches Schloss was begun by George William, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, and after he passed away in 1702 Christian Ernst oversaw the palace’s completion.
At the time it was the first Baroque palace in Franconia to be built from scratch.
When Christian Ernst died the property passed to his third wife Elisabeth Sophie, who lived on for almost half a century.
The original palace was destroyed by a fire in 1811, and in the 1820s it was renovated to host the university, which has been here ever since.
7. Schloß- und Marktplatz
The focal point of Erlangen’s pedestrian zone, this square is commanded by the Margrave’s palace and is divided in two by Hauptstraße.
When there’s a big event happening in Erlangen, whether it’s the Christmas Market, Carnival party, Spring Festival or August Market it will go down on this square.
A few paces in front of the palace is a statue for Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, who founded the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in 1742. Completing the scene on the west side is the Paulibrunnen, a Neo-Renaissance fountain from 1889, with two allegorical figures on its basin: Erlangia, representing industry and commerce, and Alma Mater, symbolising science.
Considering its compact size, Erlangen has a large municipal museum, housed in the old town hall on Martin-Luther-Platz.
One of the reasons it’s so large is that has a few collections belonging to the university, dealing with the area’s ancient history and prehistory.
But maybe the most intriguing exhibits are about the transformation that occurred after the arrival of Huguenot refugees at the end of the 17th century.
They brought with them a great deal of savoir-faire and set up weaving manufactories, and you can see examples of their work and the tools they used in the galleries.
There are also treasures from the Margraves’ palace, while Siemens’ association with Erlangen is also under the spotlight here.
Under the umbrella of the Botanical Garden, this separate, scent-based attraction is a few minutes away on foot in a conservation area beside the Schwabach stream.
In 1981 when the garden opened it was the first of its kind in the world.
Squeezed in to just under one hectare are 120 different aromatic plant species, both native and exotic.
These might be spices, medicines or have cosmetic properties, and to name a few there’s radish, crimson beebalm, fennel, onion, paprika, chamomile, mustard, wormwood, sage and yarrow.
Various institutes at the university use the garden for research, and although entry is free and you can visit any time you can enquire at the university about a guided tour.
10. Kunstpalais Erlangen
On the southern boundary of Marktplatz, Erlangen’s art museum is in a splendid Baroque townhouse commissioned in the late-1720s by Christian Hieronymus von Stutterheim, a member of the Margrave’s privy council.
The museum has been here since 1974 and in 2010 completed a long-term renovation.
The imaginatively curated exhibitions here draw on the city’s big-hitting collection of contemporary art, made up of well-known names like Chuck Close, Cy Twombly, Emil Schumacher, Karl Otto Gotz, Markus Lüpertz and Andy Warhol.
Consult the museum’s calendar because there’s a steady flow of special events, from casual discussions about art to performances of 20th-century avant-garde music.
11. Neustädter Kirche
The second of three main churches in Erlangen’s city centre, the Neustädter Kirche was started in 1686 at the same time as the church for the Huguenots.
It was built for Erlangen’s growing Lutheran population, and you may notice that the basic design of the church tower (the highest in the city) is almost identical to the Hugenottenkirche.
Each face of the tower is framed by a pair of pilasters, with Doric capitals at the bottom, then Ionic one floor up, and finally Corinthian on the top floor, mimicking the orders of classical architecture.
The interior design is richer, and there are glorious ceiling frescoes by Christian and Karl Georg Leinberger from the mid-1730s.
The crypt is also the burial place for many of Erlangen’s nobility, including the Margravine Sophie Caroline Marie, who passed away in 1817.
On the southern slope of Erlangen’s Burgberg hill in the north of the city is a sculpture garden devoted to just one artist.
The sculptor Heinrich Kirchner was active throughout the 20th century, and his work can be seen at prestigious art museums like the Kunsthalle in Hamburg.
He produced 17 large-format bronze sculptures for this space, which opened in 1982. Burgberg was the perfect setting for his art as instead of the strict symmetry of Erlangen’s other public spaces it has a bit more freedom, as well as a supreme view over the city.
Kirchner’s sculptures are in two connected gardens: The garden of an old villa in the lower reaches, and an orchard up the slope.
13. Walderlebniszentrum Tennenlohe
Erlangen is on the northwestern cusp of the Tennenloher Forst, an uninhabited nature reserve encompassing almost 1,000 hectares.
Once an Imperial hunting ground, from the 1930s until 1993 this sandy ecosystem was used as a shooting range first by the German army and then by the Americans.
Since then a herd of Przewalski horses from the Eurasian steppe have been introduced to help maintain the sandy environment, though if you do explore the reserve it’s safer to stay on the trails because of unexploded bombs.
The Walderlebniszentrum is just a couple of kilometres from the centre of Erlangen.
You can dip into the eventful history of the Imperial forest on a special trail, and enter themed houses informing you about the reserve and its wildlife.
14. Erlebnispark Schloss Thurn
Also effortlessly close to Erlangen is a amusement park with a historical theme at a palace dating to 1422. In 1722 the moated castle that was here before was converted into a Baroque pleasure palace and is a dignified backdrop to all the fun of the park.
In the grounds among mature trees dating back hundreds of years are a rollercoaster equipped with VR technology, steam train, all kinds of adventure playgrounds, a log flume and a monorail water bobsled.
The historic woodland in the grounds supports a population of 300 bats, and in 2015 the Bayerische Fledermauszentrum (Bavarian Bat Centre) opened by the park’s entrance, with details about the bats and the efforts to conserve them.
15. Christmas Market
While Nuremberg’s Christmas Market attracts tourists in their droves every year, Erlangen’s own market a few minutes up to the road isn’t without its own cosy charm.
As of 2017 there are three distinct markets: The largest is on the Schlossplatz, where there’s a Christmas forest scattered with little huts and just across from skating rink on Marktplatz.
The other big one is on the square below the Neustädter Kirche, with a Medieval theme where stalls tempt you with traditional handicrafts like wooden toys and woolly scarves and you’ll come across old-time jugglers, minstrels and fire-breathers.
Grab some old-school German Christmas treats here like hot mulled wine, and Feuerzangenbowle, in which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is melted into a cup of wine.
And finally, on the Altstädter Kirchenplatz (old town church square) there’s a carousel and stalls, all in an adorable setting.